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The pace of change
News/ > 2017/ > The pace of change/
The pace of change
8 December 2017 The pace of change in electronic flight bags (EFB) has been truly astonishing. Just a few years ago, pilots carried flight bags filled with paper charts and manuals. Initial EASA and FAA guidance categorized EFBs as Class 1 (portable), Class 2 (mounted) or Class 3 (installed).

EASA and FAA guidance initially categorized EFBs as Class 1 (portable), Class 2 (mounted) or Class 3 (installed). Most airlines struggled with difficult decisions regarding which class, or classes of EFB, and which applications, could best meet their needs within available budget and resource constraints. Consequently, EFBs fell well short of their ultimate potential.

Then came the iPad, which changed everything. Being low cost, high performing, intuitive, compact, mobile and easily acquired and upgraded, the iPad and later the Surface offered many advantages never seen before. The advent of the iPad and other tablets has made this change even more rapid because of the ever-lowering cost of the hardware, which is called an Electronic Flight Bag (EFB). In 2004, a class three EFB cost $300,000.00; by 2010, the price of a class two EFB had dropped to around $30,000.00. Today, a tablet EFB that can do much the same thing can be acquired for around $1,000.00. Within a few years, tablet EFB programs accounted for the majority of new program authorizations, and have today become the go to solution for most airline carriers.

The speed and widespread adoption of EFB using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) devices has been breathtaking. There has also been tremendous growth in associated mobile applications and their capabilities. Finally, connectivity options and declining costs have opened many new frontiers inconceivable or unaffordable just a few years ago. Initial uses include graphical inflight weather, turbulence avoidance, optimized flight tracks and profiles, company communications and more. Many of the emerging FAA NextGen and Eurocontrol SESAR initiatives, including 4-D trajectories and free flight, will require broadband connectivity to be cost-effective and achievable. >>>
>>> One of the traditional advantages of installed Class 3 EFBs was connectivity to aircraft systems (e.g., ARINC 429 and ARINC 717 data bus). This provided accurate position, speed, altitude, aircraft and environmental data to the EFB. More recently, several suppliers have developed Aircraft Interface Devices (AIDs) that are optimized for retrofit installation. The AID provides a secure interface to read the information from onboard systems, enabling additional capability for portable EFBs while mounted and secured in the cockpit. Just as iPad and Windows tablets made EFB cost-effective and deployable across an entire airline fleet, retrofit AIDs enable affordable data connectivity for legacy aircraft.

The regulatory authorities have also taken note of these developments. Both the recent EASA AMC 20-25 and upcoming FAA AC 120-76D do away with the former Class 1, 2 and 3 EFB hardware definitions. Instead, they will now categorize EFBs as either portable or installed. The own-ship position indication on EFB is already codified and will be an integral part of next update (AC 120-76D) of the FAA’s chief governing EFB document. EASA and other regulators are considering incorporating this change as well.

While tablet EFBs have made enormous strides, and continue to do so, there are limits to what these tablets can accomplish or be legally allowed to execute. They cannot be relied upon to operate or navigate an airplane, only certified avionics can. Tablet EFBs are COTS devices and as such are not certified the way the airplane’s avionics are. Avionics must pass rigorous testing standards, such as RTCA DO-160: Environmental Conditions and Test Procedures for Airborne Equipment, to be certified and legal as airworthy equipment before they can ever be installed in an airplane.

There are also aircraft design and architecture considerations that limit the ultimate uses of COTS EFB devices. ARINC Specification 664P5: Aircraft Data Network Part 5 Network Domain Characteristics and Interconnection and ARINC Report 821: Aircraft Network Server System (NSS) Functional Definition clearly define different domains on the aircraft and what types of functions they can undertake. The aircraft control domain is intentionally segregated, closed and independent of all others. >>>
>>> One of the keys to advancing technology is a common set of standards upon which airlines, suppliers, and airframers agree. The EFB Subcommittee develops EFB-related standards using an industry consensus process. There are four ARINC EFB Standards currently in use:
  • ARINC Characteristic 759: Aircraft Interface Device (AID).
  • ARINC Specification 828: Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) Standard Interface.
  • ARINC Specification 834: Aircraft Data Interface Function (ADIF).
  • ARINC Specification 840: Electronic Flight Bag Application Control Interface (ACI).
Presently, the EFB Subcommittee is updating ARINC Specification 840 for use in the tablet environment most airlines operate with today. The goal is that the user will have single sign on and data entry, along with seamless navigation between the myriad of applications available today.

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